Underhanded Magic

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                Alice was in the midst of wrestling with one of the strangling scarves that had decided to attach itself to her arm, when the bell over the door rang. She glanced up, hoping it wasn’t a large group of people this time. She’d just finished dealing with a group of fairy children that had seemed intent on trashing the place, buzzing two and fro between the shelves. She and Maya had to chase after them and try to get them to land without crashing into anything. She was seriously considering a sign that said “please no flying” but then she’d probably have to have other signs that said, “no wolfing out” and “no biting people” and then it would just begin to get ridiculous. Thankfully it was only one person this time, but the sight of the woman made Alice’s mouth firm into a thin line. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about Abby, who came in stamping the snow off her boots, giving Alice a cheerful wave. There was fog on the lenses of the woman’s gold framed spectacles, and she took them off and polished them on the wool sweater she was wearing under her coat.

                “Chilly out there,” she slid the red knit toque off, and her dark curls sprang up wildly around her face.

                Alice smiled politely, “looking for anything in particular?”

                Abby hesitated, “Yes, actually. This is going to sound really really funny, but…um…” her cheeks flushed even more, as if she was having trouble saying what she wanted, “I know I told you earlier that I go a bit mad when I work with magic, which isn’t very appealing, but…” she licked her lips nervously, and Alice had the sudden urge to step backwards. Abby was looking at her too intensely again, eyes drinking in her face like she knew something about her that Alice herself didn’t know.

                The woman continued, “I…um, I’m quite good at magic though. Very good, in fact. And I was wondering….I was wondering if you’d like someone to teach you…”

                Seeing the look of shock on Alice’s face, she continued hastily, “I mean, not as a full on tutor, just once in a while. I think we could learn from one another. You wouldn’t be an official apprentice or anything. No binding contract. At least, not for the first little while…”

                Alice was already shaking her head. She couldn’t even believe this woman was asking this. She’d had other people try to get her as an apprentice before of course, grumpy old wizards and witches, eyes alight with greed. But that had pretty much stopped after her run-in with Ambrose. Was it her dislike of Abby that was making her bulk so much at the thought? Or perhaps she was letting pride trickle in a little, insulted that someone still thought she needed tutoring.

                Regardless, it was out of the question. Abby was a stranger, she was very strange, and on top of that, Alice trusted her as far as she could throw her.

                “I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve already got a tutor. Two, in fact. And one of them is an official contract.” This was a flat out lie, but there was something in the set of Abby’s face that made her want to say it. That way there was no way her crazy idea could possibly work. There was no question.

                Abby jammed the hat back over her curls and carefully put her glasses back on. When she looked at Alice over the top of them, there was a light in her eyes, a flicker of something dangerous. Once again her eyes dipped down to Alice’s neckline, and this time Abby’s brown eyes widened. Just for an instant she looked shocked, then she glanced back up, and Alice felt a shiver run through her. It was as if a mask had dropped over the woman’s face. Or perhaps the friendly mask she’d originally worn had dropped away, revealing her true face underneath. Her expression was like ice.

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